Walfish: Northwestern demonstrates good rivalry etiquette

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Walfish: Northwestern demonstrates good rivalry etiquette

Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

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Every school has its arch-rival.

Duke has North Carolina. Michigan has Ohio State. Alabama has Auburn. Oklahoma has Texas. The list is endless.

Yet, I came to Northwestern not sure which school fit on the other side of the equation. I assumed Illinois was the answer, but it felt like we cared more about beating them than they did about beating us.

However, as soon as I covered my first NU-Illinois duel for The Daily, I realized just how much the men and women in purple and white loved beating the men and women in orange and blue. The rivalry did not include the same hatred one sees from a traditional college rivalry, but the satisfaction from winning was just the same.

Let’s use the softball team’s recent sweep of Illinois as an example. When talking with sophomore pitcher Amy Letourneau after Sunday’s win, she told me “beating Illinois is fun.” If the laughs in the NU dugout are any indication, the Wildcats had a lot of fun dominating the Fighting Illini from the opening pitch Friday to the final out Sunday.

The coaches will tell you the games with Illinois are important for recruiting, which they are, but even they can’t hide their smiles after beating Illinois. Watching Pat Fitzgerald stride up to the podium with the Land of Lincoln Trophy in his hand, grinning from ear-to-ear, gives you a sense of how much fun it is for the NU coaches to beat Illinois.

But Fitzgerald will be the first to tell you it is a rivalry based on respect, not hatred. The Cats don’t hate the Fighting Illini, and Illinois does not hate NU. The fans certainly don’t hate each other, but there is that friendly competition on game day.

This is a very unique trait for many traditional sports rivalries. The Bears hate the Packers. The Red Sox despise the Yankees. It seems like rivals are supposed to hate each other on principle.

Even what I’ll deem as one-sided rivalries are based on hate. Maryland hates Duke and fans view the Blue Devils as the Terrapins’ biggest rival despite the fact the feeling is not reciprocated.

It is the hatred derived from sports rivalries that tears apart friendships and ruins our society as a whole. Sensible fans see the silliness in hating someone based solely on a rivalry, but unfortunately not every fan is rational. For example, the construction worker who buried a Red Sox jersey at the new Yankee Stadium was hoping to curse the Yankees.

We are all fortunate NU does not have a rivalry that has escalated to such extremes. When the most controversial part of a rivalry is the post-game music selection, it’s safe to say it is a healthy one.

Once again, NU proves it is what is right in college athletics. The rivalry with Illinois is important, but the Cats conduct themselves the right way. The two teams come in on the basis of respect and, most importantly, have fun.

Winning should be enjoyable, and maybe it is more entertaining when you beat a rival, but the fun cannot be out of spite.